Black Friday Gadget Guide

I have an upcoming post for the holidays that will involve a few charities as I think that giving back and helping others is one of the best things anyone can do.

Today unfortunately, I’m going to digress into a more materialistic world… on the eve of the day Americans call "Black Friday" where they go to shop ’til they drop … I must (obviously!) admit I do love my gadgets…

If you’re looking for some advice on gear for the holidays – for you or for others – don’t forget to check out the My Gear Page on this blog.  I share a ton of information, advice, and examples for almost all of the video / photography / accessories / support / sliders / time lapse / lighting / audio / software and photography gear I use on a regular basis.  

By using the coupon codes below and by shopping MY GEAR page mentioned above – you help support us and the time it takes to update the gear section on this blog, and allow us to create more instructional videos to populate the section –  and it doesn’t cost you a dime.   In some cases (below) you’ll even get a discount.  

Given how many videos/graphics there are on the list – please click below to see it.   So without further ado:

1. Teradek’s "VTR" Cube Solution: 

I’ve been using Teradek’s Cube on a good number of productions for over a year now (including the film Mobius.)  It’s an affordable wireless monitoring solution that works with my Marshall field monitors and iPads, or to do proxy recording (aka instant dailies) right on set.  
 
The big difference is: most filmmakers (including myself) are not familiar with computer networks, configuring the network router for optimal performance or enabling the network shared drive on a Mac – while I know more about IP addresses than I’d like to – it can still be daunting.   Teradek decided to create a pre-configured bundle that is in effect a "plug and play" experience.   This configuration also improves the Cube’s performance.  The Cube’s range (alone)  to an iPad by itself is approximately 300ft of range.   If you use the more performant wireless repeater in case the range extends to 1000ft.  Furthermore the Cube by itself can only stream to a couple of iPads, but by using Case, you can stream to dozens of iPads on set at the same time.
 
Basically, Case is a Pelican travel case, with some elegantly designed shock and vibration dampened metalwork to mount an Apple Mac Mini and Airport Extreme to the included 8ft C-stand.  But there’s more to it than that.  The Case also has all the software loaded to use your Cubes as a VTR system in a box.  It’s preloaded with LightIron’s Liveplay server (http://lightiron.com/services/live-play), a great tool that LightIron and Teradek jointly developed to do proxy recording and collaborative review, as well as an Apple Quicktime streaming server that allows many iPads to look at the live video at once.  The proxy recording system work’s with all Red, Arri, Panasonic, Sony and Canon HD-SDI cameras, including the newly announced Canon C300.  With some of these, notably the Red One, Epic, and Arri Alexa, the proxy files have the same filename, timecode and start and stop times as those recorded on the cameras media, but in the easy to work with .mov file format.  It will also work with many other timecode enabled cameras, but it will use a generic filename instead.   Needless to say this is a pretty incredible VTR device for small and for big productions.   
 
Since releasing their own iPad app Teracentral, Teradek made using the iPad with Cube become a lot easier.  Teracentral will automatically discover all your Cubes, and show you a preview of the video.  Clicking on the play button will take a few seconds to start, but after that the video is almost real time with about a 1/3 second delay.  Teradek also improved the streaming from the Canon 5DMkII as we previously covered to not break when the 5D starts recording.  The Cube and Case systems have been used on major Hollywood productions with some impressive results (see Teradek’s blog.)  It should be noted that while this is a perfect VTR solution – the small delay (which is what separates the more affordable cubes from the $6K – $20K high end wireless systems) doesn’t make ideal for those who want to pull focus live off of a monitor.
 
The Cube is a great wireless video system that keeps getting better with every firmware release.  The latest one makes the system start up and stream video in less than a minute (down from about 3mins), which is a huge improvement especially if you need to change batteries in a hurry.  For more information on Cube, check out teradek.com/cube, while Case is explained in more detail on teradek.com/case.  
 
Don’t forget you can get a 10% discount if you buy Case from http://store.teradek.com before 12/30 and use the coupon code VincentL10.
 
2. Mitra 3D Audio Microphones

 
One of the most popular gadgets we’ve put on this blog is Mitra’s 3D Audio Microphone - I recommend you check out  the previous blog post about this microphone.   While many audiophiles have correctly pointed out that there are a number of high end binaural technology microphones out there (that are usually much more expensive) and that comparing a mono microphone to this mic is "unfair" – I must admit that I think is is kind of the point.   This remains a very attractive solution for people who want an alternative to their shotgun/omni mics and who’d like to create a more immersive audio experience for their films and time lapse videos.   There will always be higher end and higher priced products in almost any category (film / photography / audio)of course.  I do find this mic to fill a particular niche and also to have some pretty great features and performance specs for most of us out there.
 
By popular request – here is a link to the 5.1 DVD ISO downloadable disc image file for those that would like to hear the 3D Mic on their surround sound systems as well.
 
 

You can use the coupon code VL3D0012 to get a 3D Mic Windshield (a $89.99 value free) with a 3D Mic Pro or 3D Mic Indie purchase.  The coupon is valid until December 31st.

How to use the coupon: Add 3D Mic as well as 3D mic Windshield in the shopping cart and then enter the coupon code at the very last screen before checkout. The cart will deduct the price of the windshield from price.

 3.  The new Marshall 9" LCD Monitor w/ Waveform monitoring.

While the new Marshall OR-901-XDI ORCHID 9" LCD montor  is not one of the "cheaper" LCD monitors out there – I found it absolutely critical to our shoot on Mobius.   This is the highest quality portable Marhsall monitor I have used to date – and it has a critically important feature: a built-in waveform monitor.    The waveform monitor allows you to monitor the exposure / signal of pretty much every single camera out there in the world – be it HDSDI or HDMI (on the same monitor.) In fact this monitor has loop through HDMI.  I’ve used it w/ the 5D MKII, the RED Epic, the C300 and Phantom Flex cameras.   Basically this is the one monitor I travel with everywhere at this point and can handhold on set.    I either run a long BNC cable to the camera I’m working with (if I’m directing) or I use it in conjunction with the Teradek Cube for wireless monitoring.   Marshall’s monitors just keep getting better – both in terms of image quality, angle of view, feature sets, and build.    

4. O’Connor’s O-Box and O-Grips:

My favorite mattebox and grips are the O’Connor O-Box mattebox and O’Connor O-Grips.  There are a lot of great (and bad!)  support systems out there….    I love this combination for a few reasons.   For one – both of these units are great long term investments.  They will work with you 5D MKII all the way to a Panavision camera.   They are built rock solid.  The grips NEVER slip.   They are incredibly versatile in terms of shaping them to your particular needs as camera handles for handheld work.    The mattebox has a feature few others have:  you can connect the O-Grips directry to it on either side.   This solves a particular problem with small cameras – such as the 5D MKII or the Epic and Scarlet:   they are so small there isn’t often enough space to fit a follow focus system (manual or motor-based) as well as lens support and/or a mattebox AND grips – especially when you are using small EF lenses or ZEISS CP.2 lenses.   When you’re able to use the grips attached to the mattebox – problem solved.   There are also a number of mounting points on the top of the O-Box – you can screw in the cinetape, or a Zoom H4N very easily – another very nice feature on such small cameras where space and mounting points are at an extreme premium.  I have actually demoed this system by doing full 360 degree spins off of the handles on the O-Box with an Epic package behind it…  You may want to put both top an bottom rails on your system w/ the O-Box depending on how heavy your system is.

Below is a photo of this system in use on a recent production.   You can see how compact the RED Epic (or an HDSLR system becomes and how close to your head the system lives ergonomically – it’s nice to have the handles further out on the Mattebox – not to mention to have th ability to screw in an LCD or accessories on top of the mattebox.

 

 

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5. The single best little accessory for filmmakers:  16X9 Cine Lock Quick Release:

I’m so confident you’ll love this accessory  - that I’ll recommend you immediately buy two – not just one.   While we all love our HDSLR and RED cages – there’s absolutely nothing more annoying than having to screw in an arm, an accessory into a 1/4-20 mounting point when you’re in a rush (or trying to unscrew it.)   The cinelock is a simple and elegant concept – and extremely well made.   It’s a much smaller version of the Really Right Stuff / arca swiss plates we all now.   You screw in the red base plate onto your cage or camera – and the grey slide onto your accessory.  Then you can quickly slide in your EVF/  LCD / accessory pretty much effortlessly.   There is no give or slide – it’s rock solid.   This is how I quickly mount and unmount my LCDs/ EVFS and accessories on and off my cameras.   It make packing and unpacking from a case a breeze.   I can’t recommend these enough.  I own 6 of them.

6.  Tascam iPhone/ iPad audio microphone adapter:

While I’m a very big fan of the Zoom H4n audio recorder and use it on most of my productions – I’ve got to hand it to Tascam for what looks to be a pretty awesome little iDevice accessory.  This microphone allows you to use your iPhone  / iPod touch / iPad to record audio with the Stereo Condenser Microphones and gives you CD-Quality recording.    The software is free and I have to say – this is attractive for a lot of us out there who need to grab a quick soundbite.  I predict this will be a nice little gift for any writer/reporter you know out there who regularly does interviews (although they better put their phone on Airplane mode during the interview so as not to be interrupted.)   Tascam  also makes a pretty darn good recorder of their own btw – which directly competes (and in some ways exceeds) the Zoom H4n – the Tascam DR-40 4-track Handheld Digital Audio recorder.  This recorder has one notable feature – it will digital limit the recorder’s ability to clip a signal… it also offer 2-seconds of pre-recording… this one is going to be a hot little item… I look forward to getting my hands on it.

 

7. My three favorite bags – The Think Tank Airport Roller and the Petrol Rolling Case and backpack:

Think Tanks’ Rollers have been my go to carry-on bags for close to a DECADE.    These are unequivocally some of the very best rolling bags in the market.   I have covered 3 Olympics with them as a photographer (I own FIVE of these rollers!   Three Airport Security bags and two Airport Internationals (a smaller version meant to fit in smaller international overhead bins.)  And I swear by them.  Why?   Well they are built to last forever (and have excellent warranties should you have any problems.)  They are inconspicuous – you can roll them onto your airlines without attracting too much attention.   They pad your gear incredibly well.   I’ve put entire still kits in there with 400mm 2.8 lenses – all the way up to my entire RED Epic kit.   That’s how I travel – there’s no way I’m going to check my RED Epic/Scarlet  or C300 with luggage.   In fact I bring prime lenses in a second roller (or more to the point my assistant does) with hard drives and laptops in this roller on board.  We only check the "other stuff."   This case also has locking zipper, a waterproof cover, and a metal cable so you can padlock your case if you need to walk away or in my case to go cover the Olympics back in the day.  I can’t recommend these enough.  I should also recommend that the Airport International fits PERFECTLY in the Pelican 1620 roller case.  If you’re looking for a perfect solution to ship your camera gear in – and when you arrive you pop open the Pelican case – and run out to shoot IMMEDIATELY with your Think Tank roller… this is the solution.  It’s what I did for years while at The New York Times where I had to ship or check on gear – but had to hit the ground running when I landed.   It also has built-in backpack straps in case you need to go over uneven terrain.

So what do I do with my other gear?  Well – that goes into my Petrol PRB-15 Rolling case.  UPDATE: SADDLY THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER BEING PRODUCED BY PETROL :(

This is how I travel with my RED Epic kit in vehicles as well as my HDSLR systems.    While I hesitate to check a $58,000 kit on f light – I have shipped my entire HDSLR Cage systems and checked them on flight regularly.    This is an extremely well built case that has straps inside to hold your kit and of course all of the foam inserts you need.   What separates this from the rest is a top shelf system.   I put all of my RED and HDSLR accesories and tools on that top shelf inside the case.   When I arrive on location I can pull the top shelf off and work with it on the ground, on a ledge, or back on the case once I’ve removed the camera.  It makes like SIGNIFICANTLY easier when you have to work with tools and small parts – it in effect becomes a poor man’s camera cart.   Do keep in mind that is DOES NOT fit in the overhead.   This is a mid-size case that can carry and entire RED Epic package, w/ O’Box, Filter set, tools, 4 Anton Bauer batteries, a few Redvolts w/ Charger, and 2-4 CP.2 lenses… yea:  that much…   That’s why I love it.    I own two of these – one for my Epic kit and the other for my Canon HDSLR kit.

And while my back is not a big fan of backpacks – I use the the Petrol PD332 D-SLR backpack when I need to carry stuff over rough terrain.  I’ve put my basic RED Epic kit in it, my DSLRs and Medium format kits for road trips where I know I may need to hike to a location.  I’ve also fit my 15" Macbook Pro and squeezed my 17" Macbook Pro in it as well.   The padding as with all Petrol products is exceptional – I feel safe putting $20K – $50K of cameras  and lenses in this backpack…

 

 

 

 

 

8. Speaking of Macbooks – the 11" MacBook Air:

I’ve slaved around the world with my heavy 17" MacBook Pro for years.   For the past few months – I rarely if every use it anymore.   I still own it of course – and I need it to work with high definition or RED footage.   That being said – I am typing on the 11" Macbook Air right now – and travel with this computer only now.  I do all of my presentations with it when I speak – and am able to play 1080p video on external projectors without a hiccup.   My iPad is now my son’s …  I never use it anymore. The Macbook 11" is almost the same size – and it has a keyboard and is a powerful little computer.   In fact I have downloaded Nook and Kindle for Lion onto my Macbook Air.   Gone are my days of the iPad for now at least.   Gone are my days of travelling with a MacBook Pro as well.   I now fly through the airport with an incredibly light bag – this laptop is such an incredible pleasure.  I owned the very first MacBook Air and couldn’t stand it – it was far too slow.   This little machine is a beast – and I never wish I had bought the 13" by the way.   This is the perfect size for me.   I use SPECK covers for all of my laptops and swear by them btw – this avoids dings and scratches on the nice aluminum bodies – and helps avoid impact damage.

9. Best Point and shoot camera  - The Canon S95 Powershot point and shoot camera.

This is bar none the best point and shoot I’ve used for the price.  It’s the one I recommend to all of my family, friends and colleagues – and the one I use.  Why?   While the Canon G12 and other cameras out there are great and often more feature-packed – this one has a few KEY features that separates it from the pack.   First – it’s size.   It’s smaller than a cigarette pack and fits in your front, side, back or shirt pocket – that’s KEY.  10 megapixels is more than enough for most but more importantly it shoots RAW (+JPEG) images.  NEVER SHOOT JPEG images again!!!!  It’s got a 3.8x Optical zoom (28~105mm equivalent range which is PERFECT.)   It’s an f2.0-4.9 lens – very very bright for a point a shoot lens when you’re at its widest setting (by 1 to 3 stops over the competition.)  720p video – that’s all most of us need (unless we’re shooting 1080p with our iPhones.)   Full Manual control of exposure settings which is key – and ability to focus manually with the front ring.    At under $290 dollars it’s a very nice gift for someone you care about… 

10. The TWO lenses I would travel the world with:

The single most common question I get from both photographers and cinematographers is:  what 1 or 2 lenses should I buy for my Canon HDSLR?

Well here you go - 

The Canon 24~70mm 2.8 and the Canon 70~200mm 2.8.    I’d venture to say that 70% of all of the still images I’ve shot in my career were taken by one of these two lenses.    For those starting in HDSLR filmmaking – the 24~70mm is bright enough for almost any environment – and has the absolutely perfect range of focal lengths.  24mm is as wide as you’ll likely want to go for cinema, 28mm and 35mm are standards.  50mm is the perfect cine focal length and 70mm is nice an tight on a 7D or Rebel.The 70~200mm is the gold standard of long zoom lenses.  In fact this latest version is so sharp – it brings into question the need for primes.  When combined with IS and the new higher ISO cameras – this lens is unbeatable.    There are two main lenses every photojournalist owns – these two.  There are two main lenses every fashion photographs owns – these two. There are two main lenses every sports photographer owns – these two.  There are two main lenses every nature photographer owns – these two. 

   I think that makes my point.   So while these may be a bit out of some of your budgets – they are definitely lenses to aspire to.   You will use them for the rest of your lives on almost every single thing you shoot.   I photograph my professional and family pictures with the 24~70mm a significant portion of the time.  I use the 70~200mm (with a 1.4X converter at times) just as often and recommend it to all of my friends who want to shoot their children in their stage performances or sports.

 

 

 

11.  And finally – My first book: VISUAL STORIES – Available in both eBook and in printed form (for those of you who may be visiting this site for the first time.)

 There is 35% off coupon on Peachpit’s site as well for a short time – use the code "PPE2011" when you check out to get the discount.

 Here is a link to the hard copy: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet  (HARD COPY)

And a link to the eBook version: Visual Stories: Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet (eBOOK)

 For more information on the book and to see a few excerpts CLICK HERE.